what is elearning

What is elearning?

AllenComm Article

eLearning is an instructional method that utilizes digital assets to deliver content to grow knowledge, shape behaviors, and increase motivation. While some assets may be text-based, eLearning often incorporates other forms of media such as audio, video, or infographics, Moreover, the continued development of eLearning technology has enabled more interactive learning experiences through immersive technologies like simulation, augmented reality, or virtual reality. 

Today, eLearning is a complex ecosystem of engaging, interactive digital assets. However, early forms of eLearning date back as far as the 1920’s. Sidney L. Pressey, a cognitive psychologist and university professor, created a “teaching machine” that mechanized testing: learners were only able to see the next questions after correctly answer the previous question. In the 1950’s, B.F. Skinner took this a step further by pairing positive reinforcement tactics with the correct response. However, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the University of Illinois developed a method to virtually present instructional content. At the time, it was called computer-based training (CBT), but it was certainly the first step toward what we now see as eLearning.

Why do organizations use eLearning?

To scale, save money, and have a greater impact on learning outcomes. Without the cost of classroom logistics, and by allowing asynchronous eLearning, organizations are spending less, and learners are learning more. In fact, research claims “e-Learning saves businesses at least 50% when they replace traditional instructor-based training with e-Learning [and it] cuts down instruction time by up to 60%.” Modern learners want their learning experience to reflect their high-tech personal lives, which means greater accessibility and custom eLearning activities that resemble the user experience and user interface of common recreational technologies. eLearning modalities enable global delivery, capitalize on the rich media available with today’s technology, and, most importantly, apply instructional design principles to performance improvement.


What kinds of approaches qualify as eLearning?

There are dozens of modalities in the eLearning category. Your content will help determine what type of eLearning you want to use, as some will work better for your content than others. The following are some of the modalities that are considered eLearning:

  • Module or course
  • Videos and motion graphics
  • Gamification
  • Virtual instructor-led training (VILT), such as WebExs or webinars
  • MOOCs
  • Simulations
  • Social forums
  • Podcasts
  • Real-time polling

How do you use eLearning?

Business Goals

There are both off-the-shelf and custom eLearning solutions, but regardless of which you choose, it must align with the business goals. You must ask yourself:

  • What changes am I trying to make?
  • What behaviors do my learners need to change?
  • Does the eLearning modality align with those needs?
  • What would my audience most appreciate?

Learner Experience

Next, it’s all about learner experience. You have to evaluate what your learners will expect and experience from the moment they encounter your learning program. You must think about your audience and analyze:

  • How will they be accessing it?
  • What metrics would you like to track?
  • What would be the best use of their time?
  • How would they learn best (not what are they used to)?
  • How can it be most relevant to their day-to-day work?

According to Bersin, next-generation “e-learning can take on a much more interactive and social-oriented format that is embedded in the context of the learner’s work”

In the Classroom

A blended solution is one that employs both classroom and on-the-job materials and some eLearning elements. You can target the types of content that would translate into eLearning the best, and create a pathway of learning with both in-person and web-based assets. According to the US Department of Education, “students in online learning conditions performed […] better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” with blended results coming in as most successful (Means et al., 2010).

Some examples of successful classroom uses include:

  • Flipped classroom model
  • Rich media for classroom materials
  • Modular curriculum
  • Social element during classroom session
  • Real-time polling and interaction
  • Gamification and simulations
  • Toolkit of web-based assets to use after the classroom session is complete

How does technology play into eLearning?

Technology is the foundation, backbone, and catalyst of eLearning all in one. Technology provides endless opportunities for learning through apps, smartphones, videos, search engines, and other real-time information sources. However, in order to get the most out of your eLearning experience, you need up-to-date browsers and an LMS engine or hosting solution to track success.

Some of the best uses of technology for eLearning are found in new code, with things such as the following:

  • HTML5
  • Responsive design
  • Videos
  • Social integration
  • Personalization
  • Just-in-time support

The Best and Worst List of eLearning

Best Practices:

  • Analyze your audience
  • Target a behavior
  • Keep it modular
  • Make it personalized (if possible)
  • Analyze and include relevant activity sets
  • Include a pathway approach
  • Optimize learner experience
  • Keep it actionable
  • Keep it media-rich
  • Provide the need-to-know information
  • Apply microlearning
  • Apply new technology and industry trends
  • Address all levels of audience
  • Put in place a marketing and communication plan for course launch
  • Ensure it encourages problem-solving

Worst Practices:

  • Rely on death-by-PowerPoint
  • Pretend a recorded webcast is online training
  • Settle for low interaction
  • Include too-long videos
  • Ignore marketing or a launch plan
  • Treat it as a one-time event
  • Design irrelevant gamification

Need help deciding if eLearning is right for you? Contact our consultants today.